Dean L. Fanelli, Ph.D., J.D.
As advancements in biotechnology and drug development evolve at breakneck speed and an explosion of startups push the boundaries of medical innovation to develop life-altering therapies, they carry with them the promise of hope for millions of people suffering from cancer or rare, debilitating diseases. Dean Fanelli has been at the forefront of this evolution for over 20 years, servicing the biotech and pharma industries as both a patent attorney with a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and an investor with decades of experience in identifying patents and early-stage technologies, and advancing them from inception to commercialization. By 2019, he'd helped hundreds of clients as an attorney, currently working with Cooley LLP in Washington, D.C., and long gained a reputation for his unique capabilities in assisting emerging-growth companies, and for his own success as an investor.
However, Dean wanted to do more to help spur their progress to bring new treatments to the incalculable number of patients whose lives hang in the balance. Driven by this mission, he co-founded Linden Lake Venture Capital, where he and his team found, build, and invest in the next generation of biotechnology companies bringing transformative new molecular medicines to patients in need. With a hands-on approach and a focus on early-stage technologies, this group of passionate, learned minds leverages a unique skill set that combines technology and medical expertise, legal acumen, and private equity investment experience—and a long, consistent track record of entrepreneurial success. Linden Lake’s portfolio of investments includes, among others, Vesigen Therapeutics, Xsphera Biosciences, C-Reveal Therapeutics, and AexeRNA Therapeutics.
“It is an honor to work with these early-stage, emerging-growth companies, and assist them in advancing their assets toward commercialization, and delivering them into the hands of those desperately waiting for them,” Dean says.
It was Top 100 Magazine’s privilege to talk with Dean about how he combines two complex spheres of knowledge to not only help promising ventures succeed, but advance medical science for all.
What compelled you to start Linden Lake VC?
As an IP attorney over the past two decades, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to see many groundbreaking technologies in their very early stages. I wanted to challenge myself to do more—to be the one to identify the science, particularly at tier one research universities, and utilize my skill set as a patent attorney to create value and ultimately to advance life-changing technologies to patients. This is exactly what we have been achieving at Linden Lake VC.
How does your experience as a patent attorney focused specifically in this area play a role in identifying promising new biotech and pharma assets? Some might say this is the role of a medical professional.
As a patent attorney, I saw the role patents play in creating value and inflection points for early-stage biotech companies. Whether it’s obtaining a broad patent to a company’s platform technology or drafting focused claims after analyzing data from pre-clinical and clinical trials, patents play a critical role in protecting the science and creating value for a company.
You’re also an entrepreneur and the co-founder of multiple biotech ventures, one of which was acquired by a larger company. How does this insight benefit the emerging companies you invest in and work with?
We founded three start-up biotech companies and are co-investors in two others. Our first startup, PhosImmune, which identified tumor-specific phosphopeptide tumor targets found on a wide variety of cancer types, was acquired by Agenus, Inc., and the technology is currently being advanced. We gained an incredible amount of insight building PhosImmune, particularly how difficult it is to identify and advance technology. It takes a tremendous amount of effort, but if you work hard and believe in science, it is absolutely worth the effort.
What’s one piece of advice would you give to emerging biotech companies?
As an emerging biotech company, there are tremendous headwinds, particularly as a company grows, adds personnel, and raises outside financing. Many people will offer perspectives that may cause you to question your judgment in the underlying technology. Remember to believe in science and the potential of that science to change people’s lives. In every successful company I have ever worked with, it is the belief in the science and its potential from the founding team that inspires me and always impresses me.
What do you enjoy most about your work? What drives you, Dean?
Seeing technology that I personally identified at a very early stage enter clinical trials with the potential to change people’s lives is without question the most rewarding part. You never know how a drug will affect the human body until you conduct clinical trials, but being part of the team that combines technology area expertise, legal acumen, and private equity investment experience is incredibly challenging and at the same time incredibly rewarding.
Co-Founder and Managing Partner
Linden Lake Venture Capital